Tasty steamed crabs, uneven side dishes


July 03, 2002|By Tom Waldron | Tom Waldron,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Baltimore is blessed with an abundance of neighborhood crab shacks -- small, unpretentious carryouts that you can count on for steamed crabs this time of year.

In the North Baltimore neighborhood of Remington, the job falls to Sterling's Seafood, which has been serving bags of crabs since 1949. Housed in a white cinder-block building decorated on the outside with paintings of crabs, Sterling's sits on a busy stretch of West 29th Street, a short jog up from the Jones Falls Expressway. Parking is on-street but easy enough to find.

Inside, there is no decor to speak of; this is a place that is simply about seafood. You can buy fresh fish, crab meat or oysters on the half shell. At one end of the restaurant, big metal steamers stand ready. And on the counter were examples of the three sizes of steamed crabs available that night.

We ordered what seemed like a little of everything, including large crabs at $40 a dozen. While it's a bit crowded in the narrow waiting area, we amused ourselves checking out the varieties of beer and small liquor bottles on sale. The server was pleasant enough, and our order was ready in a few minutes.

Soon, we were set up on the patio at home, digging into a pile of what we hoped would be smoldering crabs. Unfortunately, the crabs were downright cool, obviously steamed some time earlier. This did not bode well, but the crabs turned out to be surprisingly tasty. They were seasoned in traditional Baltimore fashion -- lots of salt and red pepper -- and the sweet meat pulled out of the cooled-down shells with no fuss.

The rest of our meal was a deep-fried medley of dishes whose tastes seemed to blur together. A stuffed-shrimp platter ($14.95) featured two large shrimps filled with crab meat and fried in batter. It was hard to taste the shrimp or the crab stuffing inside the thick breading. The jumbo crab cake ($9.95) was indeed huge but was made with stringy crab meat, not the promised lumps, and it had a bit too much filler. I'd give it a C-plus.

A fried haddock plate ($6.25 for four pieces) was crisp and tasty, and the fried chicken ($2.50 for three pieces) was peppery and delicious -- but, like the crabs, had been cooked some time before. Sterling's coleslaw was fresh and simple, a perfect accompaniment to all the fried foods. The unusual shrimp-potato salad combined tiny shrimp in a gooey, pinkish potato concoction.

Would I go back to Sterling's? Sure. But I might just stick to the crabs. And it wouldn't hurt to call ahead to make sure they're fresh out of the steamer.

Sterling's Sea food

Food: * *

Service: * * *

Waiting area: * *

Parking: * *

Where: 401 W. 29th St., Remington

Phone: 410-467-7710

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday

Prices: Range from $3.50 for a hamburger to $16.95 for a soft-crab platter; credit cards accepted

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